City Council makes demolitions safer for lead exposure
Demolition crews tearing down Portland homes must take serious steps to avoid contaminating neighbors with dust from asbestos and leaded paint, under a tough new ordinance adopted unanimously Thursday by the Portland City Council.
"I see a real model for the rest of the state," said State Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, who co-sponsored successful state legislation to allow such local ordinances.
Over the past 15 years, more than 1,300 Portland homes have been torn down, often with no provisions to contain potentially toxic dust, testified Tony Green, deputy city ombudsman.
Dembrow's legislation, Senate Bill 871, required the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Environmental Quality to devise "best practices" for safer demolitions.
Scientists now say there is no safe level for lead in humans, especially among children whose brains are rapidly developing. The bulk of lead poisoning cases in Multnomah County come from leaded paint, which remains in many Portland homes built before 1978.
This problem is "100 percent preventable," said City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who championed the new city ordinance as part of her work overseeing the Bureau of Development Services.
Her chief of staff, Marshall Runkel, has taken the lead on the ordinance, and brought his 11-year-old daughter with him to Thursday's City Council hearing.
Ramona Runkel said a blood test showed she had a high level of lead in her blood when she was eight years old. Then her parents took steps to address the leaded-paint hazard in their home that was believed to be the cause, and her blood later tested fine.
"This ordinance is very important, so other kids don't get sick and get developmentally disabled," Ramona Runkel testified while sitting next to her dad.
The city ordinance, which takes effect on or before July 1, requires demolition crews to first remove painted exterior surfaces before tearing down homes, to reduce the chance that lead dust will get into the air. Developers or homeowners tearing down homes must first devise plans that show what techniques and equipment they'll use to avoid spreading dust and debris, and have someone on-site during the process who is trained in lead and asbestos safety methods.
The city will institute mandatory inspections of each demolition site before a home may be torn down, so a trained inspector can assure the demolition plan meets terms of the new ordinance. Two city inspectors will be hired by the Bureau of Development Services to carry out the new inspections.
In the past, inspections only took place after a home was demolished.
Developers and homeowners wouldn't have to remove interior walls under the ordinance, said Nancy Thorington, code and policy analyst for the Bureau of Development Services. It was determined that neighbors would be protected from such dust by other provisions in the ordinance, she said.
To fund the increased staff, the city will boost demolition permit fees by $180. That would raise the fee for demolishing a typical home with a basement from the current $345 to $525.
In response to requests from United Neighborhoods for Reform, which has been lobbying to restrict home demolitions, the council agreed to extend the notification of upcoming demolitions to neighbors living within 300 feet of the projects. Door hangars must be placed on neighbors' doors from three to 14 days before a demolition takes place.
Under the original ordinance, such notifications would have extended 150 feet in all directions.
Demolitions would be barred if the wind measures more than 25 miles per hour or more.
A 2016 city ordinance required developers or homeowners tearing down homes built before 1917 to carefully "deconstruct" the homes rather than just take a wrecking ball to them. That was designed in part because older homes are more likely to have asbestos and leaded paint.
However, those pre-1917 homes are mostly in affluent or gentrifying neighborhoods, Green said, showing councilors a map of the city, with different colors for various age classes of homes.
Few pre-1917 homes are built east of 82nd Avenue, an area that's home to many of the city's working-class residents.
Leaded paint was banned on homes in the U.S. in 1978, so many homes prior to that era still contain leaded paint.
Supporters say the new city ordinance will rectify that inequity and protect East Portland and other neighborhoods from lead dust and asbestos.
Find out more
To see the ordinance prior to Thursday's amendments: